House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz blasted legislative leadership’s treatment of the University of South Florida, saying the school’s achievement of state “pre-eminent” status was snatched away from it at the last moment.
Language in an education conforming bill late last Friday was changed, preventing USF from pre-eminence, a status that would have qualified it for millions of additional dollars in state funding.
Cruz, of Tampa, asked pointed questions of fellow state Rep. Larry Ahern, chair of the chamber’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
“Who decides when we move the goalpost … who makes that decision?” Cruz asked. Ahern said the change happened in the Senate.
Senate President Joe Negron has denied accusations of unfairness, saying they are “entirely unsupported by the facts.”
A bill originally had language that a university must achieve a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF has exceeded.
But the conforming bill — written after the budget was finalized Friday — reverted to a previous benchmark: A six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time students.
“Did you know that USF was celebrating that they would finally, after years of preparation, would finally achieve pre-eminent status?” Cruz asked Ahern.
“I’m not sure what they were doing Friday night,” Ahern said.
In debate, Cruz later lambasted the process: “I was ready to be supportive but then someone took from my hometown … (The university) followed the rules, and late at night, the goal posts were changed.”
Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison added, “We were there until we weren’t … this is a blow to USF.”
Tampa correspondent Mitch Perry contributed to this post.